Asmussen: Oh what a year!

Asmussen: Oh what a year!

On Sundays, football beat writer BOB ASMUSSEN checks in on the sport he loves. Ask him a question for his weekly chat by clicking here.

It's been 10 years. Well, close enough.

Technically, the 10-year anniversary of Illinois' Big Ten championship won't be until late November. But Ron Turner will be busy that week. So will Brandon Lloyd. And David Diehl. And Brandon Moore. And Robby Long. And Greg McMahon. And Mike Mallory. And Osia Lewis.

When former Illini long snapper Patrick Rouse started talking about the reunion — six years ago — he wanted to make sure everybody would have a chance to return. Especially Turner.

Entering his second year with the Indianapolis Colts, the summer fit Turner's schedule the best. Rouse and Chris Tuttle, the director of the Varsity I Association, made it work.

"I'm excited about coming back," Turner said.

Turner gives a lot of the credit for the reunion to Rouse, who grew up in Champaign and now works at First Federal. Turner was in Chicago one night with close friend David Sholem. They were talking about the reunion, and Sholem called Rouse to get it "cranked up again."

Led by Turner and quarterback Kurt Kittner, the 2001 team went 10-1 during the regular season. The lone loss came against Michigan on Sept. 29. But Michigan State and Ohio State beat the Wolverines later in the season, giving the Illini the outright title.

"I've been coaching for 30-plus years, and it's hard to get what we had going as far as chemistry and camaraderie and the true feeling of a team," Turner said. "Everyone cared about everyone. It was a 'We're not going to be beat' kind of thing.

"Four or five years later, we won the NFC championship and went to the Super Bowl (with the Bears). But I don't know if anything can compare to that year we had at Illinois. It's special. It's a tribute to those guys and the commitment that we had. It was a really, really fun time. Winning the championship made it that much better."

Turner has kept up with his guys, who have been successful in and out of football. No surprise to the coach, who was determined to recruit quality people during his time at Illinois.

"Hopefully, there were a couple life lessons they learned along the way that have helped them," Turner said. "I think the reason they're successful now is the reason they were successful then. They had that confidence. They had that drive. They had that determination to win and to be successful. It's carried them in football, and it's carried them out of football."

Turner gets together with the players whenever possible. He had dinner recently with Rocky Harvey, who brought his son. He just saw Kittner's newborn daughter.

The success of 2001 was followed by disappointment the next three seasons. Illinois didn't return to a bowl, and Turner was done after a 3-8 2004 season.

Turner spent the next five years as offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears. He moved to Indianapolis before the 2010 season.

During his six seasons in the NFL, Turner has continued to follow Illinois football. He watched with pride as many of his former players led the 2007 team to the Rose Bowl.

"I spent eight years here," Turner said. "My kids consider Champaign more of a home. My boys went to high school there. We have a lot of good friends there. I love going back."

Actually, Turner and wife Wendy will be frequent visitors to C-U during the next four years. Their youngest daughter, Madison, will be a freshman at Illinois in the fall.

"I'm real excited that she's going to school there," Turner said. "First of all, it's a great university. All of the people we know there, she's real comfortable."

Turner's youngest daughter was considering several colleges. For Christmas, she gave her dad an Illinois sweatshirt, a sign she had made her choice.

The Turners came to town a couple of weeks ago for Madison's orientation. On past visits, he has taken a tour of the new football facilities.

"I was like, 'Wow,' " Turner said. "It's amazing. It's as good as I've seen."

It would have helped Turner to have the new stuff in place during his time at Illinois. Not that he's going to complain.

And you won't hear a peep about the differences in the assistant coaching salaries between now and then.

No shocker, Turner's two sons have followed him into coaching. Morgan is working at Stanford, and Cameron is with the Minnesota Vikings.

Morgan Turner earned a finance degree from Illinois. But he listened to his dad when it came to picking a career, "Follow your passion."

"It's fun following them," Turner said.

Turner has watched current Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase on television. He has heard comparisons, leadershipwise, between Scheelhaase and Kittner.

"I was impressed," Turner said. "He looks like a tremendous competitor and found ways to make plays when they needed it."

***

The proud papa remembers his son zipping passes at age 2. Someday down the road, he might throw them on a college football field. Like the one at Memorial Stadium.

Former Illini Jeff George's son, Jeff, spent last weekend at the Illinois quarterback/receiver camp. Entering his sophomore season at Indianapolis Brebeuf Jesuit, the younger George will compete for the starting quarterback spot.

"He's doing a great job," Dad said. "It's going to be a fun year for the George family."

Just 15, George is 6-foot-2, 170 pounds. Given Dad's success as a college and pro player (he was the No. 1 pick in the 1990 draft), the younger George has some advantages over other quarterbacks his age.

The younger George wasn't pushed into football. Dad wanted him to make his own decisions.

"As a parent, as soon as you see them go for it, you help to put it in their hands," George said.

The younger George started playing youth football in the fourth grade with his dad as the coach. He also plays basketball and baseball.

"Football is his first love," George said.

The younger George has been attending the Illinois camps for three years, usually with some friends. He's been exposed to the college football and the kind of coaching he'll receive if he makes it to the next level.

"They are all Illinois fans now," George said. "We're all Coach (Ron) Zook fans."

As a high school senior, Jeff George was considered the nation's elite prospect. He was the first Gatorade National Player of the Year.

His experiences in recruiting will help if his son gets in that position.

"On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, we'll watch games," George said. "Ten minutes into the games, we're analyzing the defense. He's been into that for three years. I've always felt if you can be the smartest quarterback out there, you'll be ahead of everybody. He's an intelligent kid. He's a son everyone would be proud of."

His sons watch tape of George from his playing days, which haven't officially ended. Now 43, George reminds you that he hasn't retired from the NFL.

"They'll pop in some tapes of the old man," George said. "I'll throw an interception and they'll start critiquing me, 'Dad, why did you throw that?' "

Dad was famous for his quick release.

"I think it's something you just have," George said. "That's what I've always said. He's got a pretty good arm."

If the younger George continues to develop and Illinois someday makes an offer, it sounds like it would be an easy choice.

"He's a big fan of Illinois," George said. "It's great to come back to Illinois and see all of the guys. Coach Zook recruited me back in high school when he was at Tennessee. As a parent, you would always love to see your son go to the school you went to and be successful. We don't miss Illinois games on Saturday."

The three years George spent at Illinois were among the best of his life. He lived across from Centennial High School with his cousins and had a positive experience with the fans and media.

"I chose Illinois because I'm kind of a homebody," George said. "Illinois is near and dear to my heart."

George is enjoying free time with his wife, Teresa, and family. He works with the Jeff George Foundation, which raises money for breast cancer diagnostics.

"It's fun being home, being a parent," George said.

***

There's a familiar face running the defense for the U.S. Men's National team at the Senior World Championships.

Former Illinois head coach Lou Tepper, most recently in charge at Indiana, Pa., is serving on Mel Tjeerdsma's staff.

The tournament starts July 8 in Austria, with games being played at Innsbruck, Vienna and Graz. Other teams in the eight-country field include Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Mexico.

Former Illinois assistant Steve Bernstein is coaching the U.S. defensive backs.

***

Nebraska officially joins the Big Ten on Friday. Stores in the state already are gearing up for the move.

Up until now, the souvenir shops in Nebraska were selling limited Big Ten-related shirts. The bulk of merchandise will be put on the shelves starting Friday.

Husker Hounds in Omaha covered its front wall with a poster that reads: "The Road to Pasadena Travels Through Nebraska!"

While Nebraska was a member of the Big 12, T-shirts were made to poke fun at rivals Colorado and, especially in 2010, Texas. Now that Nebraska is in the Big Ten, Iowa becomes the friendly target. One T-shirt reads: "Is it just me or do the Hawkeyes stink?"

***

Thanks to the National Football Foundation for pointing out the rising number of college football programs.

Eight are starting up in 2011, including one (Texas-San Antonio) that eventually will join the WAC. The rest of the new programs are going into the NAIA or lower NCAA division levels.

Seventeen more programs will open for football business from 2012 to 2014. None are expected to join the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The question, of course, is when are there too many schools? Current programs are more than happy to welcome the new teams, which will make scheduling easier.

Bob Asmussen covers college football for The News-Gazette. You can reach him at asmussen<@>news-gazette.com.

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